Fatigue could be major factor for All Blacks
Tried legs. Battered bodies. Weary minds.
Fatigue could be a major factor as the All Blacks approach this weekend's 14th and final test of the year at Twickenham.
If there is one morsel the desperate English can cling to it's that the All Blacks are starting to fade. They are ready for a well earned rest and eyeing Christmas dinner. And who could blame them.
Steve Hansen's men extended their undefeated streak to 20 matches with a largely impressive victory in Cardiff yesterday.
On the back of Super Rugby, which ran for five long months, the All Blacks have steamrolled Ireland, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Scotland, Italy and Wales this year, locking away the Bledisloe Cup and inaugural Rugby Championship to sit along the World Cup.
But the petrol light is on; the tank is nearly empty.
The end is in sight.
It was evident against the Six Nations champions the All Blacks were out on their feet when the final whistle went.
"It might have showed later in the game we were definitely feeling it," All Blacks No. 8 Kieran Read acknowledged.
Hansen admitted his side lost their way in the last 20 minutes when the Welsh launched a spirited but ultimately futile comeback.
The second-half was 10-points apiece. While that can be attributed to the All Blacks clocking off mentally after effectively sealing the contest by halftime - being ahead 23-0 - there was also mutual agreement this year's arduous season is starting to take its toll.
"It's been a long year and maybe we were thinking about the week ahead," All Blacks centre Conrad Smith said. "We knew the game was in the bag and it was just a matter of holding them out."
One final push is needed to inflict further misery on the Poms, who have suffered back-to-back defeats to the Wallabies and Springboks.
Hansen will be smart about this week's training. The foundations are already laid; managing workloads and rehabilitation will be top priorities to get his men through one final week.
"There's a lot of sore bodies in there. We will have to manage ourselves," Smith said. "We've already talked about that for this final push.
It's a long year and we didn't get a big break before the tour. It rolled on from the Rugby Championship so it's starting to take its toll.
You saw that at the end of the game there. We'll be right we've just got to manage it. We've just got to knock off one more game."
This is the big test of the All Blacks' European tour. Losing to the English would be a horror way to finish the campaign and board the plane home.
There won't be a lack of motivation, but with suspensions and injuries testing squad depth the question is can the body follow the mind?
"One more game to go, you've got to get up and be motivated," Read said. "We'll have to be smart this week and recover as much as we can.
The motivation and the edge won't be a problem it's about getting the body right."